How low can you go?

08 January, 2010

There appears to be a new market emerging in the lower alcohol category. At first glance sales of wines within the legal definition of low-alcohol – below 5.5% abv – continue to bumble along at £13 million in value to the year to October 31, according to Nielsen.

Value sales are up 8% but volumes down 3%? and it’s only a very small part of the take-home, light wine market, which is worth a total of £5 billion.

However, David Thornhill, sales and marketing director at Broadland Wineries, says the category of low-alcohol drinks – including wine – has seen sales growth of £25.2 million in the past 12 months, which is a rise of 11%.

The section of the lower-alcohol wine market which is gaining real momentum is wine above 5.5% abv, but below the 13% abv bracket, which has become the norm.

Research conducted by Wine Intelligence, PLB and TFC Wines also backs up the assertion that consumers are showing increasing interest in lower-abv wines.

Thanks to more awareness about health issues, coupled with a relaxation of the laws surrounding what methods can be used to reduce the abv of wine, there’s been a rise in lower-alcohol products coming to market.

Tesco wine buyer Pierpaolo Petrassi MW confirms he has seen an increase in consumer demand for lower-abv wines.

He says: “This is partly driven by better availability of better quality, lighter alcohol wines. Retailers are also getting better at highlighting these wines to customers who are therefore able to make a more proactive selection rather than stumbling upon them or even – dare I say – buying them without realising they are lower in alcohol.

[The category] will

un?doubt­edly expand and we intend to increase our participation.”?Sainsbury’s Kimberley Davenport, BWS marketing and PR manager, says: “We have six low-alcohol wines and four no-alcohol wines. We also have a number of wines at around 10%-11% abv. Our range of low and no-alcohol wines is broad enough for the demand from our customers and should there be increased demand, we’d look to introduce more?.”?In addition to health and dietary concerns, the recession has had an additional impact.

Thornhill says: “Low-alcohol wines tend to have a lower price tag than high- alcohol wines. In the case of Three Mills, which is 8% abv, a £2.49 price tag acknowledges the fact that there is a lower-alcohol content. However, it is still a high-quality wine, so the overall taste of the product is not compromised. This allows consumers to buy a good wine at an affordable price, which is desirable during times of financial difficulty.”?Amanda Walker, marketing director at PLB, agrees price is driving consumer demand. “Wines below 5.5% abv attract a lower duty level so products such as the Sovio White Zinfandel Rosé, at 5.5% abv and an rrp of £4.99, can be promoted at three-for-£10,” she says.

Price drivenWalker points out the trade also benefits from being able to promote a responsible drinking agenda.

Jason Keeble, brand manager for Eisberg, agrees pressure over the stereotype of binge-drinking Britain is having an effect and is optimistic about the future. “We expect awareness of this category will definitely grow as political and media agendas continue to focus on alcohol-related issues – which will ultimately lead to new consumers becoming more open to trial and uptake,” he says. “With producers trying to counteract rising abvs, the category will grow.”?Claude Vialade, of Les Domaines Auriol, which produces the So’Light range of lower-alcohol wine, says demand is being driven by “consumers in the higher socio-economic groups”.

“They have a more progressive approach to the way they live their lives, are perhaps more open to change and less conventional, and concerned about their image and social status,” he says.

In September, Hereford-based Westons became the exclusive UK distributor for two new products: Green Ridge Chardonnay Spring and Green Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé Spring, which both contain 0.5% abv.

ike Constellation’s Echo Falls Spritz, they are made from lightly sparkling Cotswold spring water blended with wine.

Arniston Bay has also ventured into the lower-alcohol market with its recently-launched Lighthouse Collection, which is 10%-11% abv and has listings in Waitrose.

Barney Davis, brand and business development manager for the Company of Wine People, says: “The growth of the rosé category has signalled a consumer acceptance of lighter, fruitier wines. A more sophisticated understanding of wine itself and responsible consumption is driving the growth of the lower-alcohol category.” Gail Gilbert, European sales and marketing manager for Brown Brothers, adds: “Hopefully, the industry will develop the category as understanding grows of what defines the lower-alcohol product.

“It will be important to communicate to consumers exactly what the offer is and what they can expect as a benefit if they choose it. The message also needs to be that a lower-alcohol level does not necessarily equate to lower quality and cheaper pricing but represents some very well-made wines that can deliver as much flavour as standard abv wines.”?This echoes what Dan Jago, BWS category director at Tesco, said at last year’s WSTA forum on the future of the category. He challenged mainstream brands to look at the area of low alcohol and said he’d like to see more low-alcohol wines from South Africa, Chile and Spain.

Petrassi agrees the main challenges for building sales of lower-alcohol wines is making sure the customer “does not feel they have been short-changed on quality or style, coupled with making these wines more visible to customers in-store”.

Ripe, flavourful grapesDavid Stevens, technical director at TFC Wines, says in terms of production, it makes no “real difference” what the wine is or where it comes from and how difficult it is to remove the alcohol.

“When used correctly, the spinning-cone column can modify the alcohol in virtually any wine-like liquid, without the loss of the aromatics that are in the original material,” he explains.

“But in terms of the quality of the product, the choice of starting material is critical to the success of what is in the bottle.

“The implicit assumption that not all wines are suitable for inclusion into a reduced-alcohol beverage is correct,” he sa?ys. “A wine such as port, where so much of its identity comes from the heat and weight of the ethanol, simply would not work in a lower abv format.”??The most successful lower-alcohol wines come from using ripe, flavourful grapes, he says.

“Any hint of immaturity, with the attendant astringency or bitterness, becomes significantly amplified when the alcohol is reduced,” he adds.

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